By Doug Kutilek
[Reprinted from "As I See It," vol. 1, no. 5, May, 1998]
"Honesty compels us to cite the 1901 American Revised as the best English Version of the original languages which places us in a position 290 years ahead of those who are still weighing the King James of 1611 for demerits."
"We know of no Fundamentalists...that claim the King James as the best translation. Those in the mainstream of Fundamentalism all claim the American Revised of 1901 as the best English translation." Richard V. Clearwaters, THE GREAT CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST COMPROMISE (Minneapolis: Central Seminary Press, n.d.), pp. 192, 199.
Some will certainly ask "Who is Richard Clearwaters, and on what basis does he make this (seemingly) outrageous claim?" To those familiar with the history of Baptist Fundamentalism, the name of Richard Clearwaters is not at all new. Born in 1900 in Kansas, Clearwaters graduated from Moody Bible Institute in the 1920s, then from Kalamazoo College, the University of Chicago, and the thoroughly conservative Northern Baptist Seminary. Bob Jones University later awarded him a Doctor of Humanities degree. After several other pastorates, in 1940 he became pastor of the Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where he continued as pastor until the 1980s. During that long pastorate, he led the Minnesota Baptist Association out of the Northern Baptist Convention and led his own church out of the Conservative Baptist Association; he founded Central Baptist Theological Seminary in 1956 and Pillsbury Baptist College in 1957. He was a featured speaker at the first two Fundamental Baptist Congresses (1963, 1966). Among his numerous writings were "The Local Church of the New Testament," (used as a supplementary reading book at Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Mo. when I was a student there), and his autobiography, ON THE UPWARD ROAD. Dr. Clearwaters died in 1996. He was a Fundamentalist's Fundamentalist, a paradigm of the "fighting Fundamentalist" separatist.
Dr. Clearwaters knew American Fundamentalism. He grew up with it. He was a major player in it. He knew Fundamentalism as few men knew it. And when he wrote that he knew of "no Fundamentalists" who claimed the KJV as the best English translation, he spoke from thorough personal knowledge and extensive personal acquaintance. When he wrote that "those in the mainstream of Fundamentalism all claim the American Revised of 1901 as the best English translation," he knew whereof he spoke. Indeed, a veritable "who's who" of Fundamentalism could be constructed from the names of those who certainly fit into Clearwaters' claim: Noel Smith of the BBF comes immediately to mind, as do Fundamentalist leaders from earlier eras: B. H. Carroll, R. A. Torrey, Emory Bancroft, Henry Thiessen, Louis Entzminger. The accuracy of Clearwaters' claim cannot successfully be challenged.
Though Clearwaters' book, THE GREAT CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST COMPROMISE, carries no publication date, it is clear from its contents that the book was written in 1967 or 1968. That date is significant.
In the current debate about Bible Versions, it is implied or stated outright that real Fundamentalists accept the KJV as the "preserved word of God," or at least, "the best English translation." In light of Clearwaters' declaration, it is obvious that this view is an innovation, a wholesale departure from the Fundamentalism of the past. In decades of research, I have found no leader in Fundamentalism before in 1970 who held such a view, and only a very few writers of any sort who held to it: Adventist missionary, theology professor and college president, Benjamin G. Wilkinson, the grandfather of KJV-onlyism in his 1930 book, OUR AUTHORIZED BIBLE VINDICATED; J. J. Ray in his 1956 book, GOD WROTE ONLY ONE BIBLE (heavily plagiarized from Wilkinson); and Peter Ruckman's 1964, THE BIBLE BABEL (dependent in many ways on Ray).
In 1970, a wholesale "revisionism" was launched with the publication by David Otis Fuller of WHICH BIBLE? Composed chiefly of a heavily edited reprint of Wilkinson's very defective and inaccurate book (and with Wilkinson's Adventism deliberately concealed from the gullible reader), the KJV-only movement was triggered. Soon, all of Fundamentalism's prior history was jettisoned and a newfound doctrine of an error-free KJV was fabricated, then imposed on uninformed churches, Bible colleges, and publications. This newly manufactured "orthodoxy" became the true test of "sound doctrine," and was written into the confessions of faith of numerous churches and Bible colleges--the fact that it had to be added is proof that it was NOT a doctrine of earlier Fundamentalism.
So all-pervasive has this new orthodoxy become that a man all but universally acknowledged as disqualified from the ministry because of his multiple marriages and divorces (I speak of course of Peter Ruckman) maintains his position as the ultimate guru of the movement. And while many repudiate his manner, they freely--and uncritically--accept his material, though it has repeatedly been shown to be fraught with factual error from beginning to end (in fact, almost every major factual error embraced by the KJV-only movement--and they are many--can be traced directly to Ruckman). And now even a woman (I speak of Mrs. Gail A. Riplinger) is invited to freely preach in Baptist churches from supposedly Baptist pulpits because she happens to hold the "right" view regarding Bible versions, and has written a popular (but exceedingly inaccurate) book on the subject! These compromisings of clear Bible teaching strongly suggest that the whole movement is permeated with error. And such it certainly is.
Baptists have a disconcerting history of being repeatedly sucked into newly fabricated "orthodoxies" which are alien to their historic heritage. In the late 18th century, many English Baptists embraced a fatalistic view of predestination that absolutely killed evangelism, while others fell into Christ-denying Arianism. In America, many 19th century Baptists were deceived into adopting Campbellism and its heresy of baptismal regeneration. Others turned aside into the anti-missionary furor, or into the Adventist movement propagated by William Miller. And now, it is the Adventist-initiated view that an Anglican-produced version (with its falsified renderings "church," "baptize," "bishop," etc., made at the king's express command) is the ultimate English translation, an error-free version. (Is it not telling that the other prominent examples in church history of infallibility claimed for Bible translations are the heretical Roman Catholic Church's affirmation of the infallibility of Jerome's Vulgate, and the equally-heretical Orthodox Church's claim of the inspiration of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint? How easily Baptists can see the error in such claims for the Vulgate and the Septuagint, while being simultaneously blind to essentially equivalent claims made for the KJV).
Why is there this susceptibility to error in Baptist history? I think it can in part be traced to the spirit of anti-intellectualism which has pervaded Baptists historically, and which has led to a failure among Baptists generally to study their own history and the doctrinal views of Baptists historically. Coupled with this has been a failure to develop a well-honed ability to distinguish truth from error, and a great gullibility toward anything presented--especially in the form of peer pressure--as a mark of "real" Baptist doctrine. We insist on the right of private judgment, and rightly so, but we need to emphasize at the same time the duty of diligent study to separate Divine fact from human fiction, and to make sure that what we believe is really true.
What some today pretend is Baptist orthodoxy (namely, the supremacy or even inerrancy of the KJV) is in reality doctrinally a usurper. It is not what Baptists historically believed, and it is not what most Baptists believe today. Larry Pettegrew scored a direct hit when he wrote, "It is not correct, therefore, to suggest that one is more of a fundamentalist if he believes in the King James Only theory. He is actually less of a fundamentalist." (THE BIBLE VERSION DEBATE: THE PERSPECTIVE OF CENTRAL BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, ed. by Michael Grisanti. Central Baptist Seminary, 1997. p. 13).